18 August 2011
PETER CLUSKEY in The Hague
THE NUMBER of deaths believed to have occurred at Catholic homes for children with learning difficulties in the south of the Netherlands in the early 1950s has risen from 34 to 74 – with 40 girls under the age of 12 added to the catalogue of unexplained deaths.
The girls, all of whom were under 12 and some of whom were toddlers or babies, died at St Anna’s Home in the town of Heel – the same town where Dutch prosecutors revealed on Tuesday that they were investigating the deaths of 34 boys under 18 at an associated home, St Joseph’s.
The deaths of the girls took place over the same three years as those of the boys – 1952, 1953 and 1954. All were discovered by investigators from the Deetman commission, set up last year to look into allegations of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy across the Netherlands.
However, as with the boys, it remains unclear what actually caused the deaths of the girls, whether they were in any way connected to sexual abuse and how details were kept from the public, despite the fact that the local diocese of Roermond had become aware of them by the end of the 1950s.
A former nurse at the boys’ home claimed yesterday that a local bishop had been told about the mistreatment of children, but that nothing had been done, and that ultimately they might have died of sheer neglect.
“When a particular person cared for the boys, the death rate began to rise,” he said. “A doctor . . . warned the bishop and the person involved was sent to Belgium.”
The Deetman commission found that the above-average number of fatalities dropped back for no apparent reason after 1954. The findings have been handed to the Public Prosecution Office.
The commission, chaired by former education minister Wim Deetman, has proposed that the church pay compensation of between €5,000 and €10,000 each to victims who were sexually abused while in its care.